20 December 2002
"CORN-GATE" - REPORT ON GE MAIZE CROPS SAVAGES AGENCIES' ROLE
Report on GE maize crops savages agencies' role
New Zealand Herald
By ANNE BESTON
A report critical of the way Government agencies handled a GM maize scare is more bad news for New Zealand's biosecurity.
The report by independent consultant Professor Don McGregor, delivered yesterday, reviewed the handling of the incident by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
The two agencies were in charge when genetically modified maize plants were discovered growing in fields at Pukekohe and Gisborne this year.
Professor McGregor said the gaps in New Zealand's ability to deal with a similar incident had not been plugged and the issue needed to be addressed urgently.
One of the problems was confusion between Erma and MAF about which should be dealing with the incident and under which legislation.
The Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet argued that the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act set out which should do the job, but Professor McGregor said that meant the problem went to Erma.
"A quasi-judicial, decision-making board is ill-suited for directly handling operational matters," he said, "especially in a crisis."
Once responsibilities had been decided, other problems came in quick succession.
It took too long to collect and dispatch seeds to the United States and Australia for testing; there were delays within Australia getting seed to testing laboratories; and in the US laboratories were at their busiest time of year, meaning New Zealand's contaminated samples had to wait in the queue.
Officials decided among themselves what the test results meant without getting independent advice, something that exposed the Government to political risk, Professor McGregor said.
Officials also took a month to agree on just how the contaminated maize sites should be cleaned up, which the report said was far too long.
Overall responsibility for the incident had lacked clear leadership.
Professor McGregor said some findings in the report needed addressing as a matter of urgency.
While the GM maize seed incident was relatively benign, with seed company Pacific Seeds co-operating fully with enforcement agencies, that was unlikely to always be so. Future incidents were likely to be far more serious.
Professor McGregor said the level of contamination in the maize grown at Pukekohe and Gisborne was low, just 0.05 per cent, and it was estimated that of the 1.8 million plants planted, fewer than 782 were genetically modified.
Maize report finds legal and accountability confusion
20 December 2002
An independent report into how the discovery of genetically-engineered (GE) maize in New Zealand was handled has found confusion over accountability and legislation.
Released today, the review, done by Don McGregor for the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), found there was confusion over which organisation was responsible for handling the case and what legislation it came under.
Earlier this year, Pacific Seeds Ltd notified MAF when it found GE maize in seed made in New Zealand on its behalf by contract growers in Gisborne and Pukekohe.
Pacific Seeds destroyed the accidentally GE-tainted crop but called for New Zealand's zero tolerance policy to be changed "to a more realistic level".
Today's review, based on interviews with people involved in the case, focused on how departments and agencies handled the scare.
It said confusion was caused because The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act was complicated. Also, people interviewed said it was written to consider deliberate introductions but not unintended ones.
Most people involved thought the maize case came under the HSNO Act, but others thought it was a Biosecurity Act issue.
"Most (of those interviewed) agreed that it would have been much easier to handle the incident if it had fallen unambiguously within the ambit of the Biosecurity Act," the report said.
Legislative confusion created accountability issues too.
"At interviews, lines of accountability were variously described as 'messy', 'fuzzy' or 'confused'," the report said, noting that the bulk of interviewees felt the HSNO was to blame.
"Whatever the reason, lack of clarity about accountability erodes efficient and effective management of incidents.
"It is highly desirable, if not essential, that all people involved in incidents like this share a common view of accountability."
The report said it would be a mistake to rely on improved legislation to solve the problem, and MAF and ERMA needed to work together to clarify roles.
Another finding was that testing of seeds took too long and a decision on how to manage the affected fields was not made quickly enough. Also, it took "far too long" to decide how to clean up the sites.
However, "there was general agreement that, while there were delays and wobbles along the way, the final outcome was satisfactory".
The follow-up was hampered because many people and different agencies were involved, "but there was no one person acknowledged by all as responsible for overall co-ordination and management".
The report said there was a "yawning gap" between ERMA's job of enforcing the act and MAF's responsibility for enforcement officers.
Communication about the maize had been open, the report found.
Professor McGregor, former chief scientist with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, said it was likely that similar or more serious incidents would happen in future and steps needed to be taken to prepare for that.
Legislative and operational recommendations were that:
MAF and ERMA make submissions to a review of the new organisms provisions of the HSNO Act on their experiences and difficulties in interpreting and operating the act during the incident;
ERMA and MAF consider whether and how the HS NO Act could be changed to clarify the roles, responsibilities and powers of the ERMA, MAF's chief executive, and MAF-appointed enforcement officers in enforcing the act. Also to clarify and give better guidance on operational relationships between ERMA, enforcement agencies and enforcement officers; a review of relevant provisions of the Biosecurity Act be done alongside the new organisms provisions of the HSNO Act review so that the acts are better aligned, and 'seamless' in their operation;
MAF, in consultation with other departments and agencies, consider whether and how the Biosecurity Act might be amended so that unintentional release into the environment of any new unapproved organism - which is not an unwanted organism - comes under the Biosecurity Act;
MAF and the Environment Ministry investigate whether and how the HSNO Act might be amended to align it with the Biosecurity Act over cost recovery;
MAF and ERMA ensure they are ready for handling similar or more serious incidents involving less co-operative companies or individuals;
ERMA and MAF review and revise their relationship and how they work together and also work "continuously" to improve their operational relationships for handling breaches of the new organisms provisions of the HSNO Act. Also that they develop a generic framework for management of future incidents;
MAF prepare an operational protocol and performance standards for collection, despatch and monitoring of seed and other biological material for testing for GE contamination where there is urgency in obtaining results; and give staff training in the operation of the protocol;
MAF and ERMA discuss how enforcement officers are trained and draw up a protocol specifying roles and responsibilities for guiding and directing officers in the discharge of their duties. And make sure enforcement officers meet legal requirements;
MAF review every two years the effectiveness of its import health standards, and border detection and testing protocols for preventing the entry to New Zealand of unapproved GMOs;
MAF and ERMA, as part of their contingency planning for handling future incidents, formulate a communications strategy that is open, transparent and fair to all parties, and which recognises the interests of the government, commercial organisations and other parties or individuals directly involved.
MAF and ERMA assess the resources used in handling the maize incident and plan for future needs; and
ERMA review its guidelines for its operations, and its delegations.
Call for plan after GM seed scare
Report recommends MAF, ERMA put better plans in place in case of future
GM seed scares
20 December 2002
A GM seed scare earlier this year recommends that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Environmental Risk Management Authority put in place better plans in case of future incidents.
In August, Pacific Seeds informed officials that their quality assurance tests had shown the presence of genetically modified maize seeds in crops harvested near Gisborne and Pukekohe earlier in the year.
The company voluntarily destroyed the seeds, accepting a loss estimated at approximately $500,000. The maize-growing sites were monitored.
The Government secured the seeds to take samples for re-testing and to oversee the destruction of the seeds.
An independent review of the incident says the initial phase of the Government's response was well-managed overall. It says senior Government officials and company representatives met within 18 hours of Pacific Seeds contacting MAF with news of the GM contamination. It also praises Pacific Seeds for its honesty.
The report recommends that MAF and ERMA make appropriate preparations for handling similar or more serious incidents involving less cooperative companies or individuals.
It wants MAF, in conjunction with other agencies including the Ministry of Health, to consider whether and how the Biosecurity Act might be amended so that unintentional release into the uncontrolled New Zealand environment falls within the purview of the Biosecurity Act.
ERMA chief executive Dr Baz Walker says the growing trade in seed imports means there will always be a risk of GM material being introduced. He says the occasional shipment could slip through and authorities need to be prepared to deal with it.
© 2002 NZCity, IRN
TV3 has until next month to produce material for BSA
nzpa, 20 December 2002
TV3 has until January 15 to provide more material to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) regarding its interview with Prime Minister Helen Clark over allegations of genetically-engineered (GE) seed plantings being hushed up.
In an interlocutory decision, dated two days ago and made public yesterday by the National Party, the BSA said it had the power to require a person to produce papers, documents, records or things in that person's control for examination.
It has requested from TV3 a chronology showing where segments of footage about Nicky Hager's controversial Seeds of Distrust book were made.
It also wants full tapes of interviews with Hager and Miss Clark.
As well, it has asked for an affidavit from parties about the confidentiality agreement under which TV3 was provided with an advance copy of Hager's book. TV3 interviewed the prime minister the day before Hager's book was released.
Hager alleged in his book there had been an accidental planting of GE corn seeds which the Government had then covered up.
Miss Clark and her chief press secretary, Mike Munro, have complained to the BSA over Miss Clark's treatment during the interview by John Campbell.
They said Miss Clark had not been treated fairly during the arrangements for and during the interview.
They also complained that the interview, in advancing allegations in the book as facts, breached the standard requiring accuracy.
Claims from the book were put to Miss Clark but no mention was made of the book's existence during the interview.
Miss Clark said previously that she had not known of the allegations until they were broadcast on a radio news bulletin the next morning.
She claimed she had been "ambushed" on TV3, and labelled Campbell a "little creep".
TV3 declined to uphold the complaints, which were then referred to the BSA.
In the BSA's report, chairman Peter Cartwright said TV3 had until 5pm on January 15 to supply the material it wanted.
In a statement, National broadcasting spokeswoman Katherine Rich said Miss Clark should drop the complaint, claiming taxpayer money was being spent pursuing Miss Clark's "personal vendetta" against TV3.